My Racism: My Harmful Attempts to be One of the ‘Good Whites’

After the painful events of last week, our nation is experiencing another traumatic wave of violence, grief, and protest. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, two black men, were killed violently by police officers two days in a row. Their deaths were recorded on cell phone videos and then broadcast across social media sites.

Protestors then took to the streets. During a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas, a sniper shot violently into the crowd, targeting police officers specifically. Five police officers were killed violently — Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, and Lorne Ahrens — and six more were wounded.

Conversations and debates have emerged on social media in response to these deaths. Last week, I was especially convicted and challenged by a post from the Rev. Denise Anderson. She is the newly elected Co-Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). I appreciate her leadership and am grateful for the ways she is shaping important conversations we need to have together. In her post, she challenged white people to confess their racism openly in conversation with others:

Her post was shared 809 times and has made an important impact. In response, several of my friends and colleagues have begun to write honestly, confessing their own racist thoughts, actions, and motives. We have all been socialized by racist beliefs and biases. It is important that we own these patterns and confess the ways we personally promulgate racism. If we cannot have these kinds of conversations, we cannot see racism for what it is. And if we continue to deny the existence of its effects, we will never make changes to the structures and systems that perpetuate it.

I’ve been reflecting on my own patterns. Today I want to confess a particular motive that shows up  in my thinking and acting. I am not proud of this, and though I am not alone in behaving this way, I want to take personal responsibility for it. I also want to continue a broader conversation.

My racist confession is this:
I am nearly always trying to be a good white person.

Nearly.
Always.

BLM

[Photo Credit: Spike Lee]

I am not proud of this, but it creeps into my thinking. Let me explain what I mean.

When racism is discussed, I have a motive to appear like I get it and am doing a good job working against white supremacy. I know I haven’t arrived in some sort of enlightened or evolved sense, but this motive nearly always arrives on the scene. It coexists with my better motives. I have a desire to be and look like a good white person.

This is a racist motive: 
It centers me inside myself for the sake of myself.

It also chases a myth:
Racism exists in structures of privilege. White folks can check our privilege; we can also use it purposefully for change. But we will never be untouched or unaffected by the privilege we carry. Racism is not about some good or bad identity I hold. Racism is a system of oppression structured to give privileges to light skinned people like me at the expense of people of color. It is insidious and wrong.

The desire to look like a good white person is not my only motivation in this anti-racism work (a ‘but’ is coming). When these outrageous, repeated injustices of racism happen in our nation, I join others in feeling rage, grief, and a sense of longing for active change. This is real and deep. BUT let me be clear: I am no saint, nor do I deserve a cookie for having the emotions and desires I should have. These are feelings, desires, and motives I should have authentically in relationship with others.

None of this makes me a good white person.
None of this makes me above the fray.
None of this should leave me unquestioned.
But sometimes, I wish it would, and
I chase this as a terrible motive.

I want to see tangible changes in our racist structures, but in the midst of it all, I confess that there are moments when I also want to justify myself. I feel guilt and shame, and I want to rise above these feelings by looking better. This means I begin to center myself, my feelings, and my appearance in the work. This is racist.

Black and brown lives are at stake.
Black and brown lives matter more than white feelings.

These kinds of motives are especially tempting for white folks who are preachers, speakers, and community organizers. We know it is important to speak and act rather than remain silent. In the midst of that, we easily become obsessed with trying to get it right and say the right things. We are afraid of making mistakes, so we want to look enlightened and ‘woke.’

But we’re still in denial and afraid.

We stumble over ourselves to make sure people see our concerns in Facebook comments. A person of color expresses grief, and white folks line up in the comments to say things like,

“Me too. This is so hard, and I just feel awful.”
“I’ve lost so much sleep over this.”
“I can’t believe this is happening.”

We want to make sure people know we’re affected. Are we trying to prove something to others? To ourselves? Sometimes, I am.

I hope we do feel the grief.
I hope it does motivate us.
But it doesn’t make us above the fray.

I am not some good white person floating above it all.
My attempts to prove otherwise are racist.

Renee Roederer

15 thoughts on “My Racism: My Harmful Attempts to be One of the ‘Good Whites’

    1. Sorry, but actually I find it offensive and racist to call out whites because they are white. You paint us all with the same brush. Many whites are racist and they view the blacks the same way, but so are many blacks that view whites just the same. Being white does not make me or anyone else racist. If we are going to go with color coding, I spent my life working with blacks, reds, whites, browns, yellows, and reds. The only reason to get all upset about it is if someone is treating others badly. My primary concern was to earn a living and support my family, just like most everyone else. To do that I did not have time to spend arguing race or blocking traffic, or threatening people.
      If anyone claims that inherent racism is born in a person they are lying to themselves or just trying to further their own agenda.
      If you don’t like it too bad. get over yourself, it is not about you.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Racism isn’t born in people. It’s indoctrinated into them. And, if you are a white person indoctrinated into a white supremist society, you are going to have some subconcious racist tendencies that you need to unpackage as well as a mass of privileges you have to acknowledge. I’m still working on my racism and I’ve been aware of my privilege for 5 years. These things are so ingrained in our society that they don’t just go away over night.. so you have to strive to work on yourself to be a better ally. Denying that you are racist doesn’t make you any less racist. If anything it makes you more racist. And, no, POC can’t be racist towards white people because white people have privilege over them in this society. Racism = prejudice or discrimination from a point of power.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think there is a misunderstanding of what racism is. I didn’t understand it until recently. It is not a person or people who think less of, hate, or treat people of another race differently. It is a system that oppresses whole groups of people based on their race. So, yes there can be racist white people or racist black people or whatever, but “racism” doesn’t affect white people because we benefit and others are hurt by it. I’m more likely to get a good job and get paid well because I am white. I am more likely to be treated gently by police officers, leniently by judges, etc. because I am white. It is possible that I may at times be treated unfairly by people of other races because I am white? Sure, but those instances will be far outnumbered during my life by being treated better than minorities. For black people, this is the opposite.
        It is not because we are white, that we are inherently racist. It’s that our society benefits us because we are white, so it doesn’t serve is to face the racism that has been taught to us in a thousand ways, often subtly, sometimes not.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. @Michelle: YOU have the wrong meaning of racism. You say… “It is not a person or people who think less of, hate, or treat people of another race differently. It is a system that oppresses whole groups of people based on their race.” But in fact, racism IS a person a people who think less, hate, or treat people differently solely based on their race. AND a system that oppresses whole groups of people based on their race is called OPPRESSION. It is systematic oppression based on race. Racism does not equal oppression. One can be racist and not be oppressive. Oppression hurts somebody’s opportunities, etc. in life. But racism is an attitude, a way of thinking, something that can be changed within someone, not an act. Oppression on the other hand is the actual unjust treatment of others. White, black, and anywhere in between can be RACIST and not show it. However, oppression can be observed.

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  1. Wow. . . I just read the New York Times op ed above. Immensely convicting in its truth telling. This paragraph really speaks to what I wrote today:

    “You cannot know how we secretly curse the cowardice of whites who know what I write is true, but dare not say it. Neither will your smug insistence that you are different — not like that ocean of unenlightened whites — satisfy us any longer. It makes the killings worse to know that your disapproval of them has spared your reputations and not our lives.”

    Here’s the link for anyone else following along: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/10/opinion/sunday/what-white-america-fails-to-see.html?_r=0&module=ArrowsNav&contentCollection=Opinion&action=keypress&region=FixedLeft&pgtype=article

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for everything you have said here. I resonate with all of it. I, too, want to be a good and white, but also a good guy. What you have said here applies to me on so many levels. And yet, I hate it that I’m so worried about the right thing to say that I say nothing. A first step, I think, is writing this response here. It’s a small step, but it is a step.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Thank you for this. You put into words something that’s been vaguely floating out there in the atmosphere for me for some timenow. Thank you for digging in deeper to something I had been resisting exploring for myself and taking the lead by going first. I am indeed racist. How I ever thought I was going to become truly anti racist or less a part of the problem without admitting that is delusional.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is challenging but so important to come to these realizations. I think I’m realizing more and more (and there’s still so much to learn) that I/we are going to continue to have racist motives and biases pop up as we do this work. In fact, maybe the work begins to reveal these to ourselves. We won’t be proud of them. Perhaps they will coexist with our better motives for a long time, or even always, but we have to keep speaking, acting, and showing up. We need to do this in a way, of course, where we do not become the center of the work. That’s crucial.

      But also, waiting to speak and act until we have no racist thoughts or motives. . . That’s just not going to happen any time soon either, or ever. We’ve been shaped and socialized this way. Rather than accepting that passively, we need to take responsibility actively for racism’s presence and insidious actions in our own lives. This is hard for us emotionally, but that pales in comparison to what is most crucial:

      Black and brown lives are literally on the line.

      There are people whose lives are deeply on the line. They have names and stories and particularity. .. I think of people I know and love during these conversations and when I see the newscycle. They matter. There are also many more people whose names I don’t know, and they matter just as much.

      That love motivates me best. But I don’t get a a cookie. The love is real and authentic, but it doesn’t justify me when my racist biases, thoughts, feelings, and motives come to the surface.

      I/we are not above the fray.

      Lots to learn here. Let’s keep working at it.
      Thanks, everyone, for commenting from your own stories.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’M WHITE… AND I WILL NOT APOLOGIZE FOR IT. SORRY FOR YOUR STRUGGLES, BUT I WILL NOT BE MADE TO FEEL GUILTY OVER SOMETHING I HAVE NO CONTROL OVER.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have no desire for people to feel guilty about their own personhood. That’s why I said, “This is not about some good or bad identity I hold.” But racism involves structures and systems, and these are set up to privilege people with lighter skin. The stats and the facts are there. We can work to dismantle systematic racism. That is something we definitely have some control over.

      Like

  5. I think the word you’re looking for here is “Narcissist.” You want people to see what a good white person you are, which doesn’t make you a racist, but an egotistical narcissist. Racial identification is a part of being a human being. Human beings like to be around people they are comfortable with. This means like beliefs, morals and appearances. Not only race, but whether you’re rich or good looking. Only the lucky small portion of us can truly see through the outside in others and not treat people based on what they can offer us.

    However, I do believe that no matter what we ALL say or do, people will always be identified by their race. Unless you get past your insecurities of your own race, you will never be able to ignore the ignorant and focus on your own priorities and accomplishments. This is coming from a half-Asian male what grew up in white suburbia. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about.

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    1. This first paragraph is the most truthful thing on this page, Shane. Racism is defined as “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.” So…all the blogger’s points are moot. Do you look down on someone because you believe your “whiteness” makes you superior? If so, you’re a racist. If not, good news. Don’t believe the agenda that causes you to first forget what words mean before you apply them to yourself.

      As for your second paragraph, though, Shane…I don’t know that I agree. I’m sure that historically we could find examples of nationalist pride trumping racial identification. The bigger problem here, in America (one which was even identified by Malcolm X in his “any means necessary” speech back when), is that people of all races/colors tend to identify themselves by their historical roots instead of taking pride and ownership in being an American. If we could all agree to be “American” (whatever that means), then I think it would be a massive step towards true equality.

      Like

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